Jonathan Field - Maker of Random Stuff

Monthly Archives: October 2006


I’ve been getting lazy with my journal lately, but it doesn’t mean nothing’s been happening. No, it’s been a whirlwind couple weeks here in KY. Aside from the endless warehouse progress (more that half our orders go out of the new warehouse now), Eric and Aki visited, and I’ve been keeping social as well. There was a night of pumpkin carving, and just this weekend a bonfire halloween party in the Indiana woods. It was at Pat’s friend’s house… the guy who got hit with the tazer gun several weeks back. I went with Melody and Charlotte. Our costumes were great; pictures to be posted after halloween itself. We spent the better part of the party playing catch in the dark with a glow stick. It’s a lot more fun than it sounds!

Oh, I’ve been driving a Ford F150 since I got back… I reserved an economy car as usual, but that’s all they had. Well, they had a minivan, but please, what do you take me for? Anyways, the thing gets bad enough milage that I think I’ve already undone any good I did buying a Prius almost three years ago now. The thing is a beast. I’m just getting to the point where I can park the darn thing, but it still takes a 30 point turn to do a 180 in a parking lot.

Saw Marie Antoinette. Sofia Coppola is great. She has such patience in telling a story. And who else does these days? The music was perfect, anachronistic or not.

Surprise! I went to church on Sunday. I’ll probably post more about that later.

Oh… the main reason I decided to post this morning (aside from not being able to sleep… too much going on in my head these days), is that Charlotte finally burned me a CD of pictures. Here’s Team Overalls! It’s obvious why Zappos does so well in the fashion business with people like us behind the scenes.

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Back In LV

Ah, my own bed, my own car, my own pile of bills and junkmail…

Got back in last night and felt fairly disoriented. I couldn’t remember where I left my car… had the cabbie drive around the office lot for a minute before taking me home and finding it in my garage. Made myself a healthy dinner (grilled halibut and a salad) which was welcome after so much junk food in the past six weeks.

Wore my Kentucky-bought bib overalls to the office today, looking mighty fine if I do say so. Don’t have a picture unfortunately. They went over well. Several people commented that I looked thinner, so I guess the junk food didn’t gain me any weight. But I still feel fatter… perhaps I’m thinner but flabbier and less healthy overall? I defintely need to get back to the working-out-and-eating-right thing I had going for a while there.

I do have some candid pictures from KY, though. Here’s one of me talking with Keith near the putaway merge. I’m obviously a bit concerned about something. We’re standing at a point roughly in the middle of the warehouse. There’s as much behind the camera as there is between me and that far wall. And actually the far wall is only the halfway point, though the other side is basically just an empty room right now. And here’s a picture of me and Jen observing the putaway sorter. Behind us are several layers of conveyor. Behind that to the right is the racking, to the left is the famous carousels. Thanks to Brian K for taking pictures of me when I was unaware, at my most vulnerable.

Tonight at midnight I enable the rest of the inventory and then we’re 100% operational (right now we’re about 80%). That’s not really the end of the road, but it’s the beginning of the end. What a ride!

Then on Wednesday it’s back to KY to tie up any loose ends…

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Back to Normal

Okay, I’ve gone a whole week without being an asshole, I think it’s safe to assume I’m back to normal. The warehouse has had some chaos in that time as well, so it’s not like I wasn’t tempted to be an asshole. But everything seems to be working reasonably well now, both inbound and outbound. Still have a long way to go of course, but all the critical pieces are operating.

Sophie came out last weekend, and we had a nice leisurly time. Had some great food at De La Torres, which I’ve wanted to take her to for a while. Hung out at Bernheim Forest with Charlotte and her visiting friend Sarah. Super beautiful and relaxing. The forest I mean. Well, the ladies too. We rented pedal tricycles and quads and went up to a tree-canopy overlook and then coasted back down the hill. Had a super nice dinner at Jack Fry’s. Watched the season premeire of LOST, which was good. My only weekend disappointment was giving her the warehouse tour on Saturday afternoon… turned out nobody was doing much at the warehouse then, which surprised me enough to call Craig. But that was normal, so we just looked at the stationary equipment which wasn’t nearly as impressive as when it’s in operation. Sophie was still impressed, but I wish she had seen it in action.

Monday was rough… my Dad came out and Sophie left, which was all fine, but there was a disaster at the warehouse so I wasn’t able to actually enjoy my lunch with them, the first time they’d had a chance to see each other in a year and a half.

The disaster was worked through by Thursday and I’m able to relax again. Dad’s been cruising around during the days doing little tourist things, and we have dinner and chat at night. Last night we had a great dinner at India Palace, with Keith, Mehryar, and Charlotte, so now he’s met some of the cool people I get to work with. I gave him a warehouse tour on Thursday night and he really seemed to dig it. At that point it was all running reasonably well so he got to see what an amazing machine it is.

He’s leaving tonight, and then I’m leaving for Las Vegas tomorrow night. But I’ll be back in KY on Wednesday. Hopefully things are still running as well then!

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You know…

I can really be an asshole sometimes. But I guess that’s true of nearly everybody.

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D +1

I said in my last post we had “launched” the new warehouse, but that was only partly true. We brought over a small portion of the receiving team and ran very low volume, and that was it. That first week went well in many ways, but there were some problems. The largest problem was our shrink-wrap machines. We’re shrink wrapping everything to keep the boxes from falling open as they travel around in the newly automated system. But the shrink-wrap machines were tempermental and not running up to spec, and proved to be a substantial bottleneck, jamming up so often as to cause the whole inbound workflow to grind to a halt.

On Saturday after a somewhat frustrating week we tried a different tack, rather than pushing the shrink wrappers to go faster (resulting in more jams and downtime) we slowed everything down. This idea, from the incredible Keith Glynn, proved to be just the ticket. Even though we were running the machines slower than we wanted, we were able to keep them running smoothly for hours at a time, rather than minutes, and workflow improved. It was a “tortoise and the hare” thing, as Charlotte pointed out.

Sunday we all took a day off; Charlotte and I went to E P “Tom” Sawyer state park and walked a little nature trail. Then we went over to Mehryar’s for dinner with many other Zappos folks and hung out for hours talking about the Mormons.

Then, on Monday morning October 2nd we brought over the complete receiving and returns departments, in excess of 60 people. Since then, all new product, 30K+ items per day, have been going to the new warehouse. Now _that’s_ a launch. We’re starting with a 100K item putaway backlog because the old warehouse literally ran out of space at around 3.1mm shoes. So they’re running three shifts 24/7 to try and catch up.

So Monday was intense. The D day of Zappos logistics. We (the wateam & Charlotte) worked for 17 hours straight starting at 7AM. And this was real work, not some leisurly faffing about on a computer like I normally do. I was on my feet the whole time. I was so engaged in all the goings-on I literally forgot to eat lunch and only remembered dinner because someone else mentioned it. I can’t even recall what dinner was at this point; it may have been a couple candy bars. At one point midday, my impossibly cool exterior cracked a little bit and Charlotte caught me with a dazed expression running from one problem to the next mumbling “we’re fucked”. But that was only for a few moments; overall things were a success.

Keith and I managed to keep the shrink wrappers running pretty well, despite their inherint problems. Running an under-specced shrink wrapper looks easy, but it is actually a careful process of gracefully managing the ever-gliding boxes into a perfectly spaced line. It was actually hard to train people to do it consistently enough, so we did it for a portion of the day ourselves. We also had techs look at the machines to figure out what could be done to run them faster. It turned out to be that they were geared for smaller average box size and rate and weren’t releasing plastic fast enough.

The other major challenge was to keep all the workflow balanced… in a high-speed automated system, each set of workers in the chain has to keep up or everyone loses productivity. Of course, I was only peripherally involved in that kind of thing, but it is amazing to see everyone running around learning where the choke points are and redeploying their efforts. It’s going to take quite a while for everyone to get their instincts working in the new system, and I don’t know any way other than trial and error.

I crashed at about 2AM, and then hit the warehouse again at 7AM today. Today went a better overall, as many of the “we’re fucked” type of problems had been resolved. So we chugged along pretty well but still bottlenecked by the shrink wrap machines. Luckily we were able to find a tech co come out and install new sprockets so the plastic would go faster. This happened just before I went home tonight, and it seemed to make a big difference. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow; D +2.

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned outbound yet… Mehryar, Justin, and Jen ran several real orders through the outbound process today. Overall things worked well, and we might go live with outbound tomorrow. We’ll see. If we do, then we’ll have arrived. And I’ll be ready for a long nap :)

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